Workplace Culture

10 Tips for Helping Employees With Aging Parents

By Carolyn Rosenblatt

Apr. 28, 2010

1. Encourage difficult dialogue. Encourage every employee over age 40 with parents over age 70 to have the “difficult conversation” with parents about their future. Even if the employee’s parents are perfectly healthy now, they need to know what plans their parents have, if any, for taking care of themselves if they need help and can’t manage independently at some point in the future. Adult children need to know their parents’ medical, financial and legal information.

2. Be a link to community resources. Know your community’s resources for aging adults so that your employees won’t be lost in a sea of information overload or feel lost not knowing where to start getting information. Your community’s listings for your closest Area Agency on Aging, senior centers, legal aid for elders and social services agencies are often available in community-based directories. Have one in your office and know where to find directories online.

3. Have a lending library. Keep good resource books on hand for your employees should they face crises with aging parents. Frequent questions regard legal, financial and health care options, as well as communication with elders and other family. The best books shorten research time and reassure employees they’re on the right track. Audio books are particularly good for busy employees.

4. Outline legal options. Urge employees to ask their parents if they have a durable power of attorney (for finances) and a health care directive. These are documents everyone needs in case of emergency or if they become disabled in handling finances. If parents don’t have these things, adult children need to urge and help them to get them done. They are the absolute basic essentials. Having a will or trust is also an essential and can save a lot of time and grief later.

    5. Help employees ask the right questions. Employees need to ask their parents about their financial health so that they will know what to do if the time comes when they need to have help at home or can’t take care of themselves. The responsible adult child should have a record of where the parents’ bank accounts are located, what other financial institutions are connected to them, and where one could find the account numbers and passwords for banking online, if a parent becomes suddenly disabled by a fall or stroke. Advice from a qualified and established financial planner can help parents make responsible plans for their own financial well-being in older age.

    6. Plan for long-term care. Counsel employees not to assume that Medicare will take care of their parents in the future. It doesn’t pay for home care, nor for much nursing home care. Many people are shocked to discover this. Know that long-term care insurance is generally not available if you’re already ill or have certain chronic conditions. Employees need to get it for themselves before they turn 70; after that point, rates can become exorbitant, and many will be denied coverage.

    7. Support caregivers. This is one area where an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Caregivers can easily experience burnout, which frequently leads to physical illness and poor work performance. Offering mental health support to stressed-out caregivers can help keep workers on the job. If your company can build mental health counseling for caregivers into the benefit package, employees can be retained even if they do have great responsibilities for parents. If professional support is not an option, make sure you help connect employees to resources that ease the stress of caregiving.

8. Make relief possible. Encourage employees who are caregivers to take advantage of respite opportunities and to avoid “martyr syndrome.” Female employees, especially, often try to be a good daughter by caring for aging parents, taking care of their own families and still staying on the job. Taking time away from everything should be encouraged. Develop an “escape hatch” list of places your workers can get away, relax and recharge. Encourage employees to ask for help from friends, community and religious organizations, and teach them how to do it.

    9. Create an informed process. Consider setting up a streamlined approach to dealing with employees who are frequently absent because of having to help an aging parent. A system in place will help you help them most effectively. Perhaps routinely recommending a visit to a counselor, elder law attorney, care manager or other expert whom you know could make your job easier. If your company is facing increasing problems with absenteeism over aging parents and Family and Medical Leave Act needs, consider building consultations with experts in the aging field into your company’s bank of resources available as employee benefits.

10. Help leave the worry behind. Encourage your employees to use professional helpers if they are distance caregivers for parents who do not live in the area. We recommend professional geriatric care managers, often nurses or social workers skilled in being a family’s “eyes and ears,” who can look in on an elder regularly and report to the family, easing stress and worry. Some companies are now offering the services of care managers as a part of their employee assistance program to reduce absenteeism and loss of employees.

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